The barn a Le Mas Blanc, where Isabel lives and works
Last year, I decided to apply for a mentorship through the Humber School for Writers. I'd heard great things about the program, and I was thrilled to be accepted last summer. My mentor is Isabel Huggan, a Canadian writer living in France who has published fiction, poetry and essays.
The mentorship began in September and will wrap up next month. I can't believe it's almost over! For those who are considering applying to the program or who have been accepted and wonder what is in store, here's a brief summary of how the program has worked for me.
Administratively, Humber wasn't easy, which has little to do with the college itself, I suspect. The province of Ontario uses one system to enroll all students in its post-secondary schools and the online application caused me a fair amount of frustration. Suffice it to say that it took me much longer to get set up on their system than it should have. Be warned: you should begin the process without delay.
At the start of the mentorship, Isabel sent her seven mentees a welcome email (followed up with a package in the mail) with information on how the process would work and what to expect. She warned us that she would nitpick our texts, send us questions and make suggestions for rewrites, which all sounded fine to me. Maybe my experience with critique groups and workshops has toughened me up, because I was eager for her notes and had no issues when my texts came back full of marks, changes and edits.
Having said that, I didn't make every single change suggested. I've learned over the years how to differentiate between sound writing advice (like this ending isn't strong enough) and style preference (such as changing my gerunds to past tense). I was extremely grateful to have someone provide this level of attention to the work and trust me to choose the appropriate changes. What I found most useful were Isabel's notes on whether she understood the character or where the plot bogged down or if the ending wasn't believable. These comments and suggestions, in addition to her homework assignments, helped me better define the characters and shape of the book.
Generally, mentees are expected to revise the work the mentor just commented on while also preparing the next submission. With a full-time job, I found it impossible to do both, so I sent Isabel a new story every three weeks and compiled her notes. I had requested a five-week leave of absence from work specifically to complete my mentorship work, and the last few weeks I've been neck-deep in notes and rewrites. Thankfully, Isabel has been very accommodating of my schedule.
Will I complete all that I'd hoped to achieve during the session? No. I had hoped to revise nine stories from the book and finish three of them. I won't have time to revise all the stories for her secondary comments, but I have definitely made progress on the book as a whole.
One high note for me has been Isabel's praise for a rewrite on the first story I sent her. We both feel it is ready for publication, and after working on that particular story for years, it feels great to have a sense of completion. On the other hand, Isabel found that the second story I sent her didn't work at all, and I've been struggling to find the character's voice and rewrite that story so that it still provides the punch it needs for the overall plot. As you can see, I still have a lot of work ahead of me!
I highly recommend the Humber mentorship program to other writers struggling to revise a book. Having someone devote such time and care to your work is invaluable. One area I didn't have time to pursue, and therefore cannot comment on, was the online bulletin board where students posted comments, asked questions and shared notes. While I wasn't able to extract every bit of juice from the experience, I will finish the program with enough work to keep me moving forward on my book, edging ever closer to publication. Thanks to Isabel and the Humber School for Writers.